Chester emergency departments explain costs, training, services in Andover

By Shawn Cunningham
© Telegraph Publishing LLC

Andover board member Chris Walker believes the Chester board is not listening to Andover. Telegraph file photo

An informational meeting on emergency services between the Andover and Chester select boards Monday night was winding down when Andover board member Chris Walker slammed a travel mug on the table and walked out saying that the Town of Chester wasn’t listening and would force Andover to pay more for the service.

The meeting, intended to clear up misunderstandings regarding the emergency services  — including fire and ambulance — by Chester went along pretty smoothly for the first hour or so. Fire Chief Matt Wilson and Ambulance Chief Amanda Silva gave overviews of how they respond to emergencies and answered questions from board members and a handful of Andover residents who attended the meeting at Andover Town Hall.

Chester Town Manager Julie Hance said the numbers handed out at a previous meeting were an example not a proposal. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

What the meeting was not intended to be was a negotiation of the costs of providing fire, ambulance and dispatching. When Chester board chair Arne Jonynas asked if there were any other questions before adjourning, Walker said he had something to “throw out there.”

“We were concerned that the rate we were going to pay for fire service was going to rise dramatically,” said Walker. “And the preliminary numbers were thrown out and it was more than dramatically increased.”

“I want to end that right now,” said Chester Town Manager Julie Hance. “Those were not preliminary numbers, I was very, very clear…”

Walker said he wanted to finish but Hance said that the numbers are examples, not a proposal.

“OK, I’m done,” said Walker slamming the table and rising to leave. “Thank you, that has proven my point. You won’t even let me finish. Chester just wants to shove this down our throat.”

Chester board chair Arne Jonynas said they were just trying to come to a fair solution. Andover Town Clerk Jeanette Haight and Chester Select Board member Lee Gustafson are to his right.

“That was an unexpected response,” said Jonynas  after Walker left the meeting. Jonynas said his board was coming out to Andover so everyone had the same information and his board could work out a cost that would be fair to all.

“We’re not going to shove anything down anybody’s throat,” said Jonynas. “That’s not how we work, that’s not how this board is, that’s not how our town is.”

Andover resident Hank Mauti asked what formula was used in the past. Hance told him that she has been with the town for 17 years and has not been able to find how the number was calculated. She noted that she has been researching how other towns do this and will be reporting her results to the Chester board in an executive session on Wednesday.

The ins and outs of emergency services

Fire Chief  Wilson kicked off the program with a prepared statement, then took questions. Most of those questions revolved around the response of the Chester Fire Department to calls in parts of Andover that were the farthest from Chester.

Ambulance Chief Amanda Silva, left, listens as Fire Chief Matt Wilson read statistics about his department’s calls.

Wilson explained that there are grades of response that trigger mutual aid from other towns’ emergency departments. For example, an auto crash would be a general alarm because the department has the resources to handle it on its own. The report of smoke in a building, however would be a first alarm and a confirmed structure fire would be a second alarm. Based on the alarm and the location, “run cards” outline for the dispatchers which towns’ departments would automatically be asked to respond and with what equipment.

He told the meeting that, because there are no hydrants or established water sources in Andover, tankers would be needed from both Chester and from mutual aid departments. A fire in one section of Andover would – according to a pre-set run card response – trigger a mutual aid response from a nearby department. An example would be that a first alarm on Andover Ridge Road would get a response from Chester but if an actual fire was confirmed a second alarm would bring resources from nearby departments like Weston and Ludlow.

Wilson also said that Chester has a close relationship with Proctorsville, which would cover the Chester station during the call and could be called up to the scene. The Chester department is a member of Connecticut Valley Mutual Aid, Upper Valley Mutual Aid and Keene Mutual Aid.

Andover board member Maddy Bodin asks for clarification about the difference between volunteer, full-time and ‘call’ departments.

Chester has an Insurance Services Office rating of 5/5x. In that rating, 1 is the best number while 10 is the worst. A number of years ago, the department had a rating of 8. Wilson said that out of 146 Vermont fire departments only 31 had a better rating. The ratings are based on water availability and hydrant systems as well as the department’s personnel, training, equipment, communications and efforts at community risk reduction.

Andover resident Jean Peters asked whether the department tracks its response times and Wilson said that those are recorded and sent to the State of Vermont and are public records. He noted that slower times go against a department’s ISO rating.

Andover Select Board member Maddy Bodin asked what a “call department” is. Wilson said that members of the Chester department are part-time Chester Town employees, who receive an hourly wage based on their level of certification. Those hours are based on the time from their being toned out to a fire to being released from the fire station to return home. In other words the duration of the “call.” The department has 24 members.

Ambulance, Fire service members must continue training

Chester Ambulance Chief Amanda Silva told the meeting that her department has 16 members comprised of six emergency medical technicians, one emergency medical responder and two advanced emergency medical technicians, all with medical training. The remaining members are drivers or trainees.

Silva said that, like fire, her department operates on run cards. If there are two calls, the ambulance goes to the first agency and the second is covered by mutual aid from Ludlow, Springfield or Golden Cross, a private ambulance service. Ambulance service member and Andover resident Jeff Knisely explained that Golden Cross is a full-time service with crews in their stations that covers a number of towns. Chester is supposed to get a response from Westminster, but if there’s already a call for that station, the next Golden Cross ambulance will come from Claremont, N.H.

Peters asked if Chester is actively recruiting more people to work in the ambulance service. Hance said yes.  She added that the lack of responders is a statewide problem, but the town is now able to host training sessions, thanks to facilities within the new  Public Safety Building. She added that Chester also is paying people to take the EMT classes. She then suggested that Andover encourage its residents to train to become first responders to go to a patient while the ambulance is on its way.

Silva and Wilson said that training for either service involves a significant commitment of time. For an EMT, the course work takes six months for one night a week or three months for two. Certification for “firefighter I” takes about 170 hours while “firefighter II” requires more that 100 additional hours. A person would have to also commit to ongoing training to remain certified in either service.

Wilson noted that over the past 10 years call volume has nearly doubled and asked the boards to look at the duration of calls in addition to the raw numbers. He said that in recent years, Andover has had one call that lasted seven days for 24 hours per day and another call that took 48 hours.

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  1. I was one of the ones that waited over an hour for an ambulance that came from Claremont not Chester this is a problem for us in Andover that ambulance can mean life or death many do not have that hour to wait for Claremont to arrive we do matter when we live in a small town and pay for a quick response for an ambulance